World

No quick end to the fighting in Iraq's cities is probable unless radical Shiite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr surrenders to authorities or his militia is wiped out, the senior US commander there said. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez spoke as the number of dead Iraqi resisters, foreign militants, and coalition forces in Fallujah, Ramadi, Baghdad, Najaf, Kut, and other cities passed 500. Al-Sadr is wanted in connection with the murder last year of a rival cleric.

In a new tactic, civilians from other Middle East nations, Japan, South Korea, and Britain were taken hostage by the Iraqi radicals - in some cases under threat of execution unless their governments withdrew troops from Iraq, even if they were sent for humanitarian missions. Japan's leaders said they would not be swayed by the threat and called the kidnappings "unforgivable."

Embattled President Megawati Sukarnoputri was fighting perceptions that Indonesia's national election four days ago was rigged, despite testimony by foreign monitors to the contrary. Her predecessor, Abdurrahman Wahid, alleged "lots of irregularities" and warned that his party might refuse to accept the final vote-count. With less than one-third of the tally complete Thursday, Megawati asked for calm and patience amid indications that her Democratic Party for Struggle had a one-point lead over Golkar, the longtime ruling movement and favorite in late opinion polls to win the most seats in parliament.

Allegations of fraud also swirled as voters in Algeria went to the polls to decide whether to give President Abdelaziz Bouteflika a second five-year term. But Western observers said they were inclined to give the election relatively high marks for fairness, and - in an unprecedented move - the armed forces issued a declaration of impartiality. Bouteflika needs more than 50 percent of the vote or a runoff with his closest challenger will be required April 22.

All signs pointed to defeat for UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's plan for reunifying Cyprus in an island-wide referendum April 24. But Annan had yet to agree to requests that the vote - to be held separately in the Turkish and Greek sectors - be postponed. Greek Cypriot leader Tassos Papadopoulos urged defeat for the proposal Wednesday. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash also opposes the plan, which envisions two "constituent states" under a weak central government.

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